Woeller hopes to make up for lost time with Canadian women’s team


Shannon Woeller in action for Canada. (AP Photo/Juan Karita)

Shannon Woeller is a seasoned veteran in the soccer world.

The 28-year-old defender from Vancouver had a strong college career at Rutgers. She has also played professionally across Europe with stops in Norway, Iceland, Germany, and she recently signed a new contract with Eskilstuna United of Sweden’s Damallsvenskan.

But still on her “to do” list is making a mark on the Canadian national team. She was part of the program from 2009 through to 2012, earning more than a dozen caps, helping Canada win gold at the 2011 Pan American Games, and she was a member of the team that qualified for the London Olympics. Then, as she admits, the call-ups stopped, and she was forced to do some soul-searching.

She sat down with Sportsnet to discuss how she felt about recently getting an invite to camp after a five-year absence and how she plans to savour every moment:

Your professional journey takes you to another European country – Sweden. How did your move there come to fruition?
Following the conclusion of the German club season, I was looking for a new club. I was thinking of staying in the Bundesliga, but when this opportunity came up in [Sweden], it got me very excited. The club has had a lot of success in recent years, and after some conversations with the coaching staff here, I liked their vision for the team and how I could fit into that. The Swedish league is very competitive, and I am excited for a change of scenery and a different challenge.
You’ve played in Germany, Iceland and Norway along the way. What are your impressions of the professional game in Europe?
I think it’s impressive how well established and organized all of the European leagues are. Even small communities seem to be able to sustain teams. Clubs run teams from youth all the way to professional. The leagues get players from all over the world with different backgrounds allowing for a diverse game. The style of play of each league is a bit different, and I think it challenges a player to grow and improve in different areas. I think the experience of playing in Europe has helped me grow immensely both as a player and a person.
Did you ever consider staying in North America and playing pro after you graduated from college? The reason I ask is although the National Women’s Soccer League has been around for a number of seasons and is close to home, playing time, minus a few exceptions, remains limited for Canadian-born players.
I did, but the size of the league and certainly the restrictions that the NWSL sets on non-American players made it difficult. I think it is a tough decision for players because moving overseas, so far away from home, and in a different culture, in a different language, it is not an easy thing to do. It comes with a lot of challenges, but for me coming to Europe has brought so many more opportunities than I would have had otherwise. I also think it allowed me to develop other parts of my game, fitting into different systems and playing styles.

Let’s talk about your road with the national team. I liken it to someone such as Allysha Chapman, who was away from the program for a number of years but found a spot later on. How did you return to the fold and how did you remain positive throughout the time being away? Did you ever want to give up wearing the red jersey?
Yes, it has been quite a journey. My first few years after being dropped from the program [following her first stint with the team] were challenging. As a kid growing up all you want is to play for your country, and I was there, and so close to reaching my dreams. For so long that dream was what drove me day in and day out. When my call-ups dried up, I was frustrated with myself, and I was upset that I wasn’t getting the opportunities that I wanted. 

It took me a few years of that mindset, but eventually, I realized that I played football because I loved to play football and I was so lucky to have the chance to do that as a job. I realized I couldn’t let something out of my control, like what opportunities I had in that moment, govern my happiness. There was nothing stopping me from working as hard as I could to be the best I could be, wherever that was in the world, and achieving other things in football.

That was a bit of an epiphany for me in terms of enjoying the process in this journey. I missed 2016 with a knee injury, and that gave me even more of an appreciation for just the chance to play football. After my injury, I managed to get a contract offer in the German Bundesliga to begin 2017, and a few months after that I got my first call back to the national team. I honestly had never expected to get this chance again, so I have so much more appreciation for this opportunity, and I have just tried my best to make the most of it.

What was your reaction getting the call again from the national team? Do you remember what you were doing when you heard the news? Your family must have been thrilled. 
I do. I had actually slept in quite a bit longer than I normally do that day, and I was still in bed lounging and opened up my emails and saw the invite. I didn’t know what to do. I was so surprised. I was a late call into the camp, the team was actually already on their way to Germany that day, and so I had been asked to meet up with them that evening. I had a friend from the U.S. visiting me in Germany, and I had to leave her for the last few days of her visit! The whole thing happened so fast I didn’t have time to process any of it and the next days were a bit of a blur. I told myself that it could be a one-off deal so I should go and be in the moment and enjoy the experience because it was a special thing that I thought I might never get to do again.
I think my family was even more surprised than I was! But it has been a lot of fun to share this with them; they’ve been through the highs and lows with me, and I can’t thank them enough for their support.

From a distance, what were your thoughts on the national team with John Herdman at the helm?
I was very impressed at the way the team developed under John and how they started to consistently compete with the top teams in the world. I thought he did amazing things with the program. The structure of what he built and the level of detail that is put into each area of the program is incredible. He changed Canadian football in a lot of positive ways.
How are you getting to know new bench boss Kenneth Heiner-Moller?
Kenneth was with the team before he became the head coach, so it was nice that we already knew him.  We are still getting to know him in this new role, but I think the team and myself have a huge amount of respect for him.  He is a fantastic technical coach and creates a great mood and mindset within the team, and I see things under his reign being really positive.
What do you see your role being with the squad?
I don’t have as many caps as many of the players, but I think I bring lots of other experiences to the team. I think I understand how to be a professional day in and day out in different environments, how to work through setbacks and challenges, and that I bring a very consistent mindset and work ethic. I just want to contribute my strengths to the group, and I’m eager to play any role that is needed to help push this team to be the best it can be.
It’s going to be a busy fall with the national side. Up first is a friendly versus Brazil in Ottawa, and World Cup qualification is just around the corner. What is the mindset going into it?
We are definitely narrowing in our focus as we head into the fall toward World Cup qualification. Being fully prepared for that qualification tournament is our top priority at the moment, and obviously, qualification is our biggest goal for this year. I think everyone is really excited, we enjoy spending time together and playing together, and we will be ready.

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